October 3rd, 1995 the late Johnnie Cochran held onto O.J. Simpson as the “not guilty” verdict was read and many black people in America felt relief. But it was short-lived, on December 5, 2008 O.J. Simpson was sentenced to 33 years in jail for taking his Heisman trophy from a poacher in Las Vegas and many black American’s felt angry. I was one of them. At the time I remember thinking how ridiculous the “justice” system was, how it maneuvered Simpson into jail after all. I also remember feeling angry and powerless because the conviction felt like white Americans reminding black Americans they could supersede the law.
With the O.J. Simpson trial black Americans had to stand by and watch as mainstream white America re-wrote Simpson’s history and re-created his black persona into a cautionary tale of another bad black man turning on the generosity of white society.
O.J. Simpson not only went to jail, his legacy was destroyed and mainstream white America recalls this victory over O.J. Simpson every year.
Today Bill Cosby was convicted on three counts of sexual assault and he faces up to 10 years, per conviction. He is 80 years old and he will probably die in prison and I feel angry. For many white Americans this will be difficult to understand. Positive representations of whiteness is 99% of American media, so trying to empathize with how impactful this is to black Americans could be difficult.
But I hope you’ll try.
Bill Cosby’s influence on black America can only be described as profound. Among his many contributions, Bill Cosby is responsible for creating ‘The Cosby Show’, one of the most positive black images for black people in all of American history.
As a child I was only allowed to watch ‘The Cosby Show’. It was my families way of shielding me from racist media. On Thursday’s we’d sit down and watch ‘The Cosby Show’ and then later the Bill Cosby produced spin-off with Lisa Bonet, ‘A Different World’.
I learned so many lessons from Cliff and Claire Huxtable, I identified with their children and the lessons they learned. And as I grew up, I couldn’t wait to experience university life just like Denise Huxtable on ‘A Different World’.
With the Cosby conviction the next generation may lose the value of these images, his name taints any positive contribution he has made. This is part of why I am saddened and angry.
I am also dubious of a system known to discriminate and place black men behind bars while admitted predators like Brock Turner, Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen and others walk free. And if I’m honest THIS is the root of my anger, knowing Bill Cosby is just another statistic to be used against Black Americans someday soon while white men, who skirt convictions, skew the numbers in their favor. And those statistics are used to explain why black men deserve to die. And although data proves those statistics are skewed and proves white men commit crimes at a higher rate than on record they get away with it and avoid the backlash. It is the reminder to black Americans, as with O.J. Simpson, white Americans can supersede the law.
And Bill Cosby isn’t the first positive role model accused of something like this, Michael Jackson faced similarly horrific accusations but while Michael Jackson was able to disprove the claims and retain his reputation Bill Cosby was not.
The difference between now and then is we didn’t have #BlackLivesMatter, #BlackTwitter, The Shade Room, The Root or Blavity. Black America didn’t have a medium to descend on, to discuss and react to black news and organize quickly.
And for the first time black America is not powerless. We will decide the narrative of this black man’s legacy, we will decide how he will be remembered in American culture and we will use that legacy to move black America forward.
I believe black Americans will remember his beautiful vision for black people. We will remember his profanity-free, stand up comedy shows. We will remember the strong feminist female character he wrote as his wife into the show. We will remember his portrait, perfect vision of black love and black family. We will remember black art on the walls. We will remember black-owned businesses. We will remember to support HBCU’s for higher education.
We will also remember as of April 26th he is a convicted rapist.